In La Crosse, Wisconsin, home to Oktoberfest and City Brewery, it seems appropriate that an entrepreneur would carve out a niche selling vintage and novelty beer apparel. That’s what Sam Carlson did after validating his idea at the UW-La Crosse Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
With a family tradition of entrepreneurship, Carlson followed in his father’s footsteps, initially buying and reselling vintage beer sweaters. “I found a vintage Old Style beer sweater at Good Will,” explains Carlson. “I wore it two years ago at Oktoberfest, and the response was so great I thought, there’s got to be more.”
He found more sweaters, purchased some appropriate domain names and resold the sweaters online. After discovering a company that made sweatshirts with a built-in insulated beer holder, Carlson had the opportunity to purchase a large quantity of the sweatshirts wholesale. But before taking his small-scale online business to the next level, he made a stop at the SBDC. “I was pretty comfortable with the idea and the vision, but I wanted to bounce it off/on someone. I wanted some good, constructive criticism. That’s what I got at the SBDC,” says Carlson.
Carlson sells the sweatshirts along with the vintage sweaters at barcloset.com and in September 2012 added retail sales with the grand opening of his store, Brew Town Gear at 303 Pearl Street in downtown La Crosse. He reports success on both fronts. “Until a couple months ago, I was doing more retail, but now, I linked all my products to Google shopping, which, surprisingly, was really easy to do,” says Carlson. “Now my online sales are dwarfing my retail.”
Carlson plans to expand his retail space and hours along with adding products both online and in his store. As he grows his niche business, he considers the SBDC a valuable resource. “A lot of people have ideas, but not everyone actually tries them. The SBDC gave me that extra bit of confidence to give it a shot.”
Check out this Wisconsin entrepreneur’s unique products at www.BrewTownGear.com.